Civilization versus the Barbarian
One of the most important questions facing civilization -- not only in light of the savagery of London's riots, but in all of history -- is how civilization defines barbarism.
The need for such a definition is not restricted to the cause of conservatism. Its absence was particularly glaring in John Stuart Mill's philosophical treatise, On Liberty, which made a very strong case for the radical permission of individuality. In said work, Mill declared that a diverse population ensured not only public access to a wide range of philosophies, but also a window into the functionality of personal lifestyles. From this panoramic moral viewpoint, free peoples were supposed to judge for themselves the merits of behavioral patterns, recognizing quickly and hopefully abandoning those which stood in strongest opposition to wisdom. Most boundaries of individuality, in this case, would be clearly marked by the natural mechanics of the universe, with personal pain and failure indicating transgression instead of the state.
But even this permission of individuality had legal limits. As stated in the first chapter of On Liberty, Mill recognized that barbaric peoples were to be placed under great restriction, as to entrust such with liberty could only prove disastrous. Indeed, if such peoples would not subject themselves to civility, they should be subjected to it instead. Again, though, such a statement requires one to have a solid idea of what barbarism actually is.
The barbarian, of course, cannot be defined without first defining the identity of the civilized who oppose him; to do otherwise would be like defining darkness without first understanding the concept of light. But if a social identity predicates any formation of law, and a particular behavioral standard is subsequently preferred, such a pursuit of nationhood cannot respect individuality to the degree Mill required (at least, not for his form of liberalism to be of any difference). Rather, if civilization is to confront the barbarian, even supposing that the civilization is in theory a liberal democratic republic, certain aspects of individuality must be disapproved of according to that nation's identity, with the majority acting for the whole. Whether these aspects are challenged by the state or by social means is entirely dependent upon the circumstances, but reason and order demand that they cannot simply go unchallenged.
People with no reason to band together will not band together long, and if they do, that unity will come expensively for one or perhaps all of them.
It is this point of identity at which liberal secularists find themselves in the most amount of trouble. For if a nation could simply choose any identity, along with its personal preferences and prohibitions, and define barbarism according to it and have that decision be morally acceptable, the concept of civilization would be without meaning. But if society allows itself to discriminate according to an openly admitted and particular objective standard, both by the persecution of barbaric society and the refusal to admit incompatible immigrants (as is the right of every people), it is no longer a truly liberal society.
What, then, is civilization? Perhaps many are content with recognizing some of civilization's effects -- the bank and the shop, the city hall and the bureau, properties and roads and schools. That is to say, civilization exists in commerce, in law, and in infrastructure. But civilization is something entirely different from and entirely more important than any of these, though it is oftentimes correlated with them.
Civilization, rather, exists within the irrefutable understanding of the relationship of man with man, of man with woman, of parents with children, of people with government, of nation with nation, and of all of these with God. Civilization is an understanding of unalienable rights from our Creator, the acknowledgment of natural law not only reflected by what law must protect, but enforced socially for everything which law, in the name of liberty, cannot safely prohibit (Second Treatise of Government, sect 135 and 136). It is a people wise enough to know righteousness and, further, a people who possess the personal character to carry that righteousness forward against all opposition, and in all manners of struggle.
Civilization does not lie in docility or tolerance, nor does it lie in the rejection of the human energy. It lies in the harnessing of humanity, in man's very development from urge to duty. It is the call of the lover to love, but only in proper time. It is the trumpet call for the warrior to war, but only in justice. It takes the full spectrum of human emotion and fashions it into the very substance of which legends are made, the golden streets of Zion.
It is true, of course, that such a society has never existed in entirety, and that man, regardless of whether he acknowledges that Law, has never been quite able to arise to the totality of his calling. But to recognize the call and to fulfill it are two very different pursuits, and though humanity may leave its duty unfulfilled, the civilized must recognize the barbarian according to his refusal of the laws of nature and of nature's God alone. It is not in the wearing of turbans or the color of skin or the foreign language that un-civilization exists, but rather the adoption of abominable cultures which deny the rights of man and seek to establish law not according to real justice, but rather according to doctrines both false and dangerous.
Can civilization, then, ever truly exist in the form of liberalism? The answer, as shown by the inevitable social, economic, and international decline of the United States of America and England during the period most correlated with advances in American liberalism, is that it cannot. And if America is neither wise nor strong enough to return to the God of her fathers, or to the Law which gave her liberty, and if that beacon of light which once shone from within her shores becomes a darkness, then from both within and without her shores will come those whom she cannot oppose. They will come with smiling faces and murderous intents -- to conquer not with the sword, but instead by pressing upon the hollow shell of a once civilized nation until that shell, unbolstered by its ignoble tenants, finally gives way. Then, like with London, America's daughters will be at the mercy of the barbarian.
And what would Mill say of that?
A civilization that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy [barbarism] must first have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it. If this be so, the sooner such a civilization receives notice to quit, the better. It can only go on from bad to worse, until destroyed and regenerated (like the Western Empire) by energetic barbarians.
Jeremy Egerer is a recent convert to Christian conservatism from radical liberalism and the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com.